Connecting iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod) to Ubiquiti NanoStation M5 on 5GHz Channels 14

Ubiquiti LogoIn an effort to extend my WiFi coverage outside our vacation home on a lake, I purchased a Ubiquiti NanoStation LOCO M5. My goal was to provide a strong WiFi signal a few hundred feet into the back yard, onto the beach, and all the way out to the dock. My primary router is a Linksys E4200 (running DD-WRT), and while it has great coverage throughout the house, it’s just not strong enough to blast WiFi outside as far as I wanted it.

I chose the Ubiquiti NSM5 LOCO for a few reasons. First, I didn’t need omni coverage, I just needed a wide(-ish) beam into the back yard. By mounting the NSM5 high on the back deck, I can get the directional coverage I need. Second, because all of our mobile devices are Apple iOS devices, I opted for the M5 (the “5” stands for GHz) since the majority of my family’s devices will support it: one teengager has an iPhone 4, another has an iPhone 4S, one of the younger kids has an iPod Touch 5th gen, another has an iPod Touch 4th gen, and the kids all share my wife’s old original iPad. My wife has iPad 4th generation, while I have an iPad 2 and a Dell laptop with an 802.11 n adapter that supports 5 GHz. The older iPhones (4 and 4S) don’t support 5GHz, nor does the older iPod Touch, but those devices will “age out” of rotation soon enough, and their replacements will be fine. Third, the NanoStation can be mounted outside, which is exactly what I need. Fourth, Ubiquiti devices have a stellar reputation for overall quality, wireless range, and reliability. And finally, at a street price of under $60 (I bought it on Amazon for $57.99), this purchase was a no-brainer, especially if I ever want to expand my network with other Ubiquiti devices. When you combine them all together, they “just work.”

However, one place where my NanoStation M5 LOCO didn’t “just work,” was when trying to connect our Apple iOS devices. But that’s not Ubiquiti’s fault. Their hardware and software is built to support the widest array of devices possible, and there are plenty of ways to configure the NSM5 so that it won’t work with iPhones, iPads, and iPods. Fortunately, changing the settings to support Apple iOS devices isn’t hard. These AirOS settings will work whether you want to use your NSM5 as just an access point that’s hard wired to your router (like I did), or if you’re using one as your full-blown router.

Step 1: Run the Latest Ubiquiti Firmware

Before changing anything else, make sure you’re running the latest firmware update for your Ubiquiti device.

Step 2: Turn Off Airmax

Apple devices won’t connect to the Ubiquiti devices with Airmax enabled. On the first tab in the device’s AirOS interface, make sure the AirMax “Enabled” button is unchecked.

Step 3: Use 20MHz Channel Width

In my testing, I was actually able to connect a couple of our Apple devices to the NSM5 using a 40 MHz channel width, but not very reliably, and not on all the devices. For maximum reliability and compatibility, set the Channel Width on your Wireless tab to 20 MHz.

Step 4: Use an Apple-Supported 5GHz Channel

This is what’s probably tripping up most people. The NSM5 (like other Ubiquiti WiFi devices) is designed to support a maximum number of frequencies in the 5GHz range, but Apple devices can only connect to a small subset of these. The AirOS interface doesn’t let you choose a 5GHz “channel number” per se (like the DD-WRT firmware does), but instead requires you to select the precise value in MHz that you want to use. Using a combination of the channel drop-down options on my Linksys router (which only shows the channels that “standard” WiFi n clients can see) and this article on Wikipedia, I was able to cross-reference the 5GHz frequencies that were both supported on the NSM5 and compatible with Apple iOS devices. While testing, I used the free inSSIDer app running on my laptop to verify that the NSM5 was spitting out signal on the channels I wanted.

My last tip in channel selection is to stay away from the DFS channels. Those frequencies worked fine with my Dell laptop, but not with my Apple clients. Another reason to avoid them is that DFS channels have a an output power limit of 17dB in the Ubiquiti AirOS, while the non-DFS channels allowed a max of 23dB.

The non DFS range of 5GHz (or 5000MHz) frequencies supported by the NSM5 starts at 5735MHz and goes to 5840Mhz. So the list of available non DFS “channels” that will work Apple devices are:

  • Channel 149 = 5745MHz
  • Channel 153 = 5765MHz
  • Channel 157 = 5785MHz
  • Channel 161 = 5805MHz
  • Channel 165 = 5825MHz

For countries other than the US, your frequencies may be different. But if you’re trying to connect an Apple device to a Ubiquiti WiFi antenna in the US, you’ll need to select one of those five channels as the Frequency in the AirOS Wireless tab.

Step 5: Use WPA2-AES Security

For maximum speed and compatibility, I recommend settin WPA2-AES with PSK (pre-shared key) authentication in the Wireless Security section of the Wireless tab. Because I set up my NanoStation as a second access point that was hard wired to my Linksys wireless router, I used the same SSID, security settings, and password on both devices. It’s possible to select a separate SSID and/or password for your second access point if that’s what you want in your setup.

AirOS Wireless Tab Screen Shot

Here’s a screen shot of my Wireless tab with the settings I’m using to connect my Apple devices:

Ubiquiti NanoStation / AirOS Settings for Apple iOS Compatibility

Ubiquiti NanoStation / AirOS Settings for Apple iOS Compatibility

Step 6: Verify your Network Mode Setting

I left this for last since you’ve probably got this correct already, but if you’re still having trouble it’s worth at least verifying your settings. If you’re running your Ubiquiti NanoStation as a wireless router, then you should verify on your Network tab that the Network Mode is set to Router. If you’re doing a setup like me, and merely adding a NanoStation as an additional access point to extend the WiFi coverage you already have with your existing wireless router, verify that the Network Mode is set to Bridge.

Step 7: Test and Tweak

The final step of any wireless networking endeavor is to test things out and tweak until it’s perfect. Again, I recommend downloading the free inSSIDer program and running it on a laptop with a 5GHz wireless card to test and tweak for range and interference. When testing on your Apple iOS devices, I’ve found it’s useful to use the Forget This Network option (find it by pressing the “right” arrow next to the wireless network’s name on your iOS device) to give your iPhone or iPad a “fresh” shot at connecting whenever you change the settings. You’ll have to re-enter your WPA password, but it’s worth the trouble to avoid the headache.

I hope these settings get you on your way to successfully connecting your Apple iOS devices to your Ubiquiti NanoStation M5, LOCO M5, or other 5GHz AirOS device. They worked for me, and I’m now sitting on the beach with my iPad, connected via my NSM5, typing this blog post!

I welcome your questions, comments, and feedback below.